Walter Henderson

Dr Walter Henderson was born on 29 November 1887 at Enfield, the fourth of five children of Thomas Henderson and Maria Shapland, née Ford. Following his schooling he joined the South Australian Public Service in 1904. One of his roles was as a Hansard reporter in State Parliament.

On 23 June 1913 in the Methodist manse on South Terrace, Adelaide, he married Gertrude Ellen Jaunay the second child of Frank Cunningham Jaunay and Mary Ellen Cawley. Walter enlisted in the Australian Imperial Force on 26 November 1914 and served in Egypt and France with the 1st Australian General Hospital, becoming a staff sergeant and company sergeant major. When he was discharged on 9 July 1919 in England, he moved to Paris to study law and history at l’Ecole Libre des Sciences Politiques.

When the Prime Minister, Stanley Bruce, returned to Australia in 1923 unhappy with the way the nation's foreign affairs was being managed, he created of a new public service position, namely the director of an external affairs branch in the Prime Minister’s Department in Melbourne and appointed Walter Henderson to head this section. At the same time Richard G Casey was appointed to London as a liaison officer with the British Government. The two men traded places in 1927 for six months.

From 1927 to 1929, Walter Henderson struggled in a major battle to establish a separate department of external affairs and diplomatic service. This put many bureaucrats in the Prime Minister’s Department in Canberra off-side and along with Walter's abrasive style eventually led to Walter being sidelined with the change of government in 1929.

970m Mount Henderson, the dominating feature you see beyond Mawson station in the Antartic, was named by Douglas Mawson for Walter in recognition of his role on the Australian Antarctic Committee in 1929. When the suburb Mawson Lakes was established in Adelaide a street, Henderson Avenue, was also named for Walter.

In 1933 Walter and Gertrude moved to London where Walter was called to the Bar and practised international law until he retired to Adelaide in 1953. The move to London took Walter out of the Australian limelight unlike his contemporary, Casey, who returned to Australia and entered politics. Regardless Walter is still considered to be the man who paved the way for an effective foreign affairs department in Australia although the nation did not appoint diplomats until 1939 when Menzies created legations in Washington and Tokyo.

The couple had no children and from the personal experience of the writer this was a blessing in disguise because I doubt if any infant could have endured Walter's acid tongue! When nephew, Frank Jaunay age 11, visited the couple in their Canberra home in 1928, they had no concept of how to manage and entertain a child!

Gertrude died on 27 October 1972 and on 21 June 1980 at his Glenunga home Walter married a widow, Marion Eileen Parish, née Gibbs-Jones. He died on 9 August 1986 at Kingswood.


Click to email Proformat